The united image the Australia squad have presented at the World Cup is neither a facade nor a public relations exercise, coach Michael Cheika said Wednesday.
Wallaby after Wallaby player has lined-up to speak about how the squad atmosphere has been transformed since Cheika replaced Ewen McKenzie last October.
“We like to speak the truth even if it exposes our faults,” Cheika said of his policy of winning the Wallaby way, no matter how blunt.
McKenzie endured a miserable 15-month spell as national handler. It reached a nadir with a scandal last year involving lewd text messages sent by back Kurtley Beale to one of his staff Di Patston.
The scandal spiralled out of control with Wallabies Michael Hooper and Adam Ashley-Cooper supporting Beale while Quade Cooper backed Patston. McKenzie left opening the way for Cheika to assume the post.
Cheika has retained faith in Beale, who was fined for his part in the spat. His attitude of treating players as “adults” — off-field antics are tolerated as long as there is no excess — has been one of the features of his stewardship. With other parts of the Cheika revolution, this has brought markedly better results on the pitch.
“We don’t deal in advertising, that is fake,” he said at the team hotel.
– Wallaby ‘faults’ –
“We cannot present a false image as then it would be pointless for we would be lying to ourselves.
“We have to be our real self. Even if we don’t win all the time at least we will do it our way.
“We always speak the truth, but sometimes in the modern world nobody believes you when you are telling the truth.
“We like to speak the truth even if it exposes our faults.
“Even too if we haven’t played at the level we wanted to it isn’t necessary to change as the most important thing is to remain faithful to our image.”
Cheika, the only coach to have won both the northern and southern hemisphere continental club trophies with Leinster and the Waratahs in the European Cup and Super Rugby respectively, says he sat down with the players and talked about how they saw themselves.
“We discussed what each of us thought is really the identity of the team, and what that means every day,” said the 48-year-old, who is the son of Lebanese immigrants who arrived with barely any money in Sydney in the 1950’s.
“It is good to put that on the wall and say that is who we are and this is how we are going to live the day, and our actions will make not just Wallaby supporters but all Australians proud of their team.
“Sometimes it is not results that count but the behaviour, character and values of the team which can say more to the people of the country, who are not maybe rugby supporters but watch the World Cup.”
Cheika, whose nomadic travels as a player and coach has seen him become a fluent speaker of English, French, Arabic and Italian, says he and his fellow coaches are trying to implement values he believe have disappeared from rugby.
“Queensland and Brumbie players are rivals during the Super Rugby season and then they arrive with us and we have to mould them into being team-mates and transforming all their different characteristics into pluses for us on the pitch,” he said.
“The time when players from different clubs breakfasted together one day and socialised with each other and then the next day went out and tried to kill each other on the pitch before then having a few drinks together afterwards is a side of rugby that has been lost.
“I would like to reinstitute the sense that we can be enemies on the pitch for our clubs but after it we unite together as Wallabies and can be great friends.”